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Judge turned painter is raising funds for Lewy body dementia research

February 24, 2021

Kevin Whitaker, formerly a Superior Court judge in Toronto, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2016.

While the brain disorder forced him to retire early, it hasn’t changed who he is. Intelligent, kind, witty, stylish, thoughtful and passionate, Kevin is now channelling his formidable energy into art, video calls with loved ones, and fundraising. With his wife Marie Moliner by his side, he has raised almost $120,000 towards a $200,000 goal to support the research of his neurologist Dr. Mario Masellis, an expert in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia at Sunnybrook.

Lewy body dementia is the second most-common type of neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. It occurs when protein deposits, called “Lewy bodies” collect inside the brain’s nerve cells, interrupting messages. People with Lewy body dementia experience a progressive loss of memory, visual skills and executive functions. Many patients also have Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, including rigid muscles, slow movement and tremors.

While Kevin does hope for a cure in his lifetime, he knows that may not be realistic. In the meantime, he is happy to support research that leads to symptom control, earlier diagnosis, and finding ways to modify the disease. “So much has already been achieved,” he says. “I appreciate how much Dr. Masellis is doing to make my life easier than it would have been, and I’m grateful.”

One of the exciting frontiers of Dr. Masellis’ research is exploring the link between rapidly cycling blood pressure changes – a common symptom in Lewy body dementia – and cognitive function. Regulating blood pressure can improve some patients’ cognitive impairment and visual difficulties. Kevin is benefitting from this research because he’s taking a medication that controls his blood pressure.

“Recently, Kevin set up a chess board – and then beat me!” says Marie. “He recalls our many Zoom conversations with friends and family, and he is much more independent as he goes about the daily acts of living.”

Improved cognition also allows Kevin to escape into his art. “When I paint, I exist in a floating zone of creative thought. This is a cozy place for me.” His next show will be called “Courage,” a name inspired by Gord Downie and his Tragically Hip song.

“Courage to me is understanding where you are in the scheme of the universe,” says Kevin. “It means doing what you can to assist or engage with people who are taking risky steps to advance an agenda.”

Such as raising funds for a disorder you know is terminal.

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